After a few episodes that were structured to follow multiple stories at once, we get one quiet one that follows just two of survivors for the entire hour. Was it successful? I think it was. I’ll explain why.
First, the recap portion of the program. Beth, reeling from the death of her father, is tired of barely surviving off the land with Daryl. She decides she needs to drown her grief in alcohol. She drags Daryl to a nearby country club in search of her first shot of booze. Here they are both attracted to items that show who they used to be. She is drawn to the nice clothes in the club’s gift store while Daryl grabs cash, jewelry and other shiny bits that he may have lusted after his entire life, but are worthless now. Beth points out that cash and gems have no value. Daryl accidentally sprays her creamy white sweater with gore and blood by using a golf club to take his anger out on a walker. Nobody gets the satisfaction of having things they wanted so much before the Turn made it impossible.
They end up abandoning the zombie-infested golf club ground and head to a cabin in the woods with a home distillery shed. Daryl has decided that if Beth is going to get drunk for the first time, it shouldn’t be with the cheap Peach Schnapps at the club, but with some honest-to-goodness moonshine. She convinces him to drink as well and, surprise, he’s an angry drunk with daddy issues. He turns from quiet protector to abusive husband, physically forcing her to use his crossbow to make sport of a nearby walker despite her protests. But then he breaks down and we see what is tormenting him: he blames himself for letting the Governor take down the prison. He was supposed to protect his friends and he failed and now he doesn’t know if any of them made it out alive.
Later that night, Daryl talks of his life before the Turn, how he was nobody, spending his days following his brother on the road to nowhere. Beth points out that now he is not only somebody, but the one most qualified to survive this new world. That is someone she thinks she’ll never be, though she has shown a lot of survival skills in this episode. In fact, Beth blossoms in this story.
Away from her overprotective father and sister, she does what anybody with new found freedom does, abuses it. Not just in her quest for her first drink either, but in her defiance of Daryl and in her final act, suggesting they burn down the cabin, which they do while she gives it the middle finger and giggles in her new found power to do as she pleases.
I think this episode was successful on quite a few levels. First, we were set up to think it was going to be about Beth dealing with the death of her father (and it was), but more importantly we learn about how Daryl’s abusive father had shaped him into something useful while at the same time drilling into him that he is useless. And it takes Beth’s constant prodding to get him to realize that he is not that scared kid anymore and is now, in fact, the most useful person anyone could know right now. Burning down the cabin, for him, was an act of defiance for him as much as her as the place clearly represented his screwed up childhood. On top of that, seeing the depth of his grief over failing to stop the Governor’s attack of the prison shows just how much Daryl has grown past a self-obsessed punk.
Beth’s story is that of a strong, young woman coming into her own now that her family protectors are gone. Daryl tries to act as her new guardian, but she’ll have none of it and heads off on her “girls gone wild” adventure of drinking and experimenting. To everyone’s surprise, she can hold her liquor with the best of them. And she turns out to have the necessary warrior instincts to survive a walker attack. But she’s no Michonne and nor does she want to be. She somehow manages a balance between fierce warrior and bubbly optimist.
By the end of the story, both characters are set on a path of hope, no longer being dragged down by the pre-Turn past. This continues the trend of the last three episodes as well. The survivors are finding purpose and meaning in their lives that have otherwise just been about getting through the day alive. And in the case of Beth and Daryl (and Michonne) are confronting past demons as well.
I quite enjoyed getting to know both of them better and that the writers gave them an entire episode to show who they were, who they are and who they want to be. You may think there was a lot of wasted time where nothing happened, but I saw a lot of small moments that added up nicely to the bigger story they are trying to tell about these two. And it led to many wonderful moments including Daryl’s quick and ugly devolution into his father that turned into his breakdown over his failure to save his friends and Beth’s tearful realization that she has to put her dreams of a quiet life growing old with her family behind her to survive in this new world.
From what I’ve seen since the mid-season finale, each story will continue to explore the characters of the series on the road to hope and I’m good with that.
But can someone please explain to me what the hell was up with the sawed-off torso of the rich zombie lady with her blouse open, “rich bitch” sign stuck to her chest, stuck on top of the lower part of a mannequin? I mean, just what the hell went on in that country club??